Workplace Guides: Monitoring Sexual Orientation

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What to Monitor

To monitor sexual orientation, the following needs to be considered:

Diversity monitoring can be conducted at various stages of an employee’s career. A question on sexual orientation may be added to existing monitoring systems, such as recruitment monitoring, staff satisfaction surveys, and monitoring relating to training, grievances and exits. It is vital to establish how questions relating to sexual orientation will be explained and asked.

Explaining the process

Most organisations’ equality monitoring forms contain an explanation of why the data is being collected, and how the data will be used. To encourage response, this message must explain the reasons for monitoring and should emphasise confidentiality.

The Home Office Equal Opportunities Diversity Monitoring Form contains the following introduction:
We need to carry out diversity monitoring in order to meet our statutory obligations and to make sure our HR processes are fair for all staff. Please help us do this by completing and returning the attached form.

JPMorgan’s Global Employee Opinion Survey makes the following statement to explain the collection of diversity data:
Feedback from employees tells us that it is important to address diversity in the broadest sense, beyond race and gender. One way to achieve this is to better understand those aspects of diversity that are not immediately obvious. With this in mind, please check off any of the following categories where you want to include your responses. Your answers are voluntary, confidential and will be used ONLY to understand and address issues that may exist in our business.

For many, sexual orientation monitoring is a relatively new concept. Organisations may also wish to state why they are interested in the subject, and should reiterate that the information will not be misused in any way.

In its LGBT Staff Survey, the Greater London Authority (GLA) states:
Monitoring LGBT staff and job applicants will be a significant step towards acknowledging LGBT employees, and a major preliminary step for the GLA in considering many of the issues affecting LGBT people in the workplace. LGBT monitoring will also help to inform the GLA’s Sexual Orientation Equality Scheme, currently under development. Essentially and quite fundamentally, LGBT monitoring will have a role in encouraging a culture of inclusion for LGBT staff within the GLA.

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Language and questions

The language people use to reflect their identity can change between generations, and across cultures. Just as with measuring ethnicity, the monitoring of sexual orientation will never perfectly reflect the complete range of human identities. Rather, it is designed to give some idea about the issues staff experience on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Sexuality can be a personal and private issue, but it can also have very clear relevance in the workplace, particularly where discrimination, equalities policies and partner or family benefits are concerned.

The way in which the question is asked is extremely important: inappropriate language can create a further barrier for LGB inclusion and equality.

Best practice, based on Stonewall research, suggests that the question should be phrased in the following way:

What is your sexual orientation?

  • Bisexual
  • Gay man
  • Gay woman/lesbian
  • Heterosexual/straight
  • Other
  • Prefer not to say

As an alternative, some organisations only provide one option (Lesbian/Gay), rather than two, and then cross-reference the results with their data on gender in order to examine differences in experiences between gay men and gay women. It also acknowledges that some women identify themselves as gay rather than lesbian.

‘Other’ provides an opportunity for staff to identify in a different way if they do not feel the alternative categories are suitable. Some organisations include a space for staff to indicate themselves how they identify their sexual orientation.

When used in common with other categories, such as disability and race, ‘Prefer not to say’ enables staff to not answer at all, without leaving the whole section blank. It acknowledges an individual’s right not to identify their sexual orientation. These responses should be treated separately: it is important that no inference is made about a person’s sexual orientation because they have preferred not to disclose it.

Some organisations that have been monitoring for a number of years have seen a decrease in the number of ‘Prefer not to say’ responses, as employees see that the data is being used for positive purposes, and has not led to the identification of individuals or an increase in harassment.

Gender identity (transsexual or transgender status) is not a sexual orientation, and should not be included in the section on sexual orientation. Instead, it should have a section of its own, or be included with questions relating to gender. For further information on gender identity issues, contact Press for Change –

In some monitoring exercises, such as staff satisfaction surveys, it is also appropriate to ask a follow-up question about how open, or out, the employee is about their sexual orientation. An employee self-identifying as LGB in a survey does not necessarily mean the workplace is free from harassment or discrimination – the employee may still have concerns about homophobia.

A question about how out an employee is might read:

If you are lesbian, gay or bisexual, are you open about your sexual orientation:

(Yes, Partially, No)

  • At home
  • With colleagues
  • With your manager
  • At work generally

If a considerable number of people indicate that they are out at home but not at work, or are out to colleagues but not to their manager, this could indicate an organisational issue that needs to be addressed.

Nottinghamshire County Council asks staff, through an anonymous equality and diversity survey, if they are out at work. In the survey’s first year, 30 per cent of LGB staff were not out at all in the workplace, 38 per cent were out selectively and 33 per cent were out completely. The next year, the number of staff who were out at work increased: 26 per cent were not out at all, 38 per cent were out selectively and 37 per cent were out completely. This demonstrates that the council’s changes to policies and procedures are having a positive impact on LGB employees.

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Monitoring at different stages and grades

The fundamental purpose of workplace monitoring across all stages and grades is to provide a mechanism for evaluating whether all employees are treated fairly in the workplace.

Monitoring can be used to analyse staff in terms of:

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Appraisals
  • Promotions
  • Grievances
  • Disciplinary action
  • Dismissals and other ways of leaving

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 protect job applicants as well as employees. Recruitment monitoring should be anonymous, as forms are separated from applications and not handled by shortlisting panels.

Some organisations introduce recruitment monitoring as a first step. If tracked, monitoring potential staff on the grounds of sexual orientation can supply organisations with useful information:

  • Do LGB people want to work for them?
  • Are LGB people being shortlisted for interview?
  • Are LGB people in fact being recruited?

On its recruitment monitoring form, Staffordshire Police Authority states:
Staffordshire Police is an equal opportunity employer and is determined to ensure that:
~ The workforce reflects the diverse society which it serves and that the working environment is free from any form of harassment, intimidation, bullying or victimisation.
~ No job applicant or employee is treated more or less favourably on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, creed or religion.
To implement and monitor the effectiveness of its equal opportunity policy the following information is required. The information you give will NOT affect your application in any way.

Assessing ethnicity across other HR functions is often achieved by connecting equal opportunities information with an employee. Using confidential HR filing systems, an employee’s record can be cross-referenced with their equality information. Patterns are then analysed, such as length of time in current grade, terms of employment, earnings and benefits. This can identify potential barriers or discrimination, which can then be removed.

Including sexual orientation in employee records can only be done if staff have been assured of their employer’s commitment to tackling discrimination. This is not something that can be introduced as a first step – it can only be taken following full and thorough consultation with all staff. An employer must demonstrate an explicit commitment to confidentiality, and compliance with the Data Protection Act.

Staffordshire Police Authority has included sexual orientation in its workforce monitoring since 2001. An electronic system is used to allow staff to update their details independently, privately and securely. Employees are asked to update the system every two years, but can amend their record at any time. The only people who have direct access to an employee’s file are the employee themselves and a small number of HR personnel trained in confidentiality and diversity. Since the system was introduced, the percentage of staff identifying as LGB has increased from four per cent to nine per cent.

The Home Office has introduced a sexual orientation category to a number of their equal opportunities monitoring procedures. These include:
Training: on completing any form of internal training, employees are given a detachable equal opportunities monitoring form which can remain anonymous. If they are not comfortable submitting this to the trainer, they can complete it later and return it to a freepost address. The Home Office can therefore assess whether or not LGB staff are benefiting from training.
Progression: internal career progression is monitored to ensure equal opportunities. Employees complete a detachable form, which is sent back to a different address from their other paperwork, meaning no one involved in the selection procedure will see the monitoring forms. This enables the Home Office to establish whether or not LGB employees are developing their careers within the organisation.

At IBM, a system of ‘top tracking’, in addition to other methods, has been introduced. This is a list of top-level employees who have been identified as having high potential. These employees are asked to participate in equal opportunities monitoring, which includes sexual orientation. The firm can therefore establish whether LGB employees are progressing to this ‘Top Talent’ level, and if necessary remove any barriers preventing career success. It is also coupled with a proactive mentoring programme for all Top Talent individuals. Mentors often come from within the LGBT executive group at IBM.

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Staff satisfaction surveys

When surveys include questions relating to sexual orientation, organisations can gain a better understanding of their LGB staff, which can help equality and diversity teams to tackle causes of discrimination.

Staff satisfaction surveys provide an opportunity for organisations to evaluate staff experiences. They can find out:

  • How changes in policies, practices and procedures are affecting staff
  • How effectively policies and procedures have been communicated to all staff
  • Whether there are high or low levels of staff morale
  • Whether any particular group experiences a higher or lower level of morale at work

Staffordshire Police Authority conducts a secure online Staff Perception Survey every two years. Staff complete the survey anonymously, and the question on sexual orientation is optional. To examine the state of the working environment, and the ways in which it may impact on the performance of LGB staff, all staff are asked:

Have you, in the last 12 months, witnessed or experienced any of the following at work, and if so did you confront or report the issue? (please cross all those boxes that are appropriate and consider only incidents between employees of Staffordshire Police.)

Homophobic jokes/comments:
Witnessed [] Experienced [] Confronted [] Reported

If you witnessed or experienced any of the behaviours above and took no further action please indicate why (please cross all that apply):

[] Advised not to proceed []
 Fear of reprisals
[] I did not consider it to be important [] Unsure of how to proceed
[] Unsure of level of support from colleagues [] Other

Barclays’ Employee Opinion Survey asks staff to voluntarily – and anonymously – identify their sexual orientation. The results of this question are cross-correlated with answers to further diversity questions, enabling the firm to establish how their equalities policies are working, and identify any room for improvement. For example, employees are asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statements:

  • Management supports equality and diversity in the workplace.

  • Most of the time it is safe to speak up in Barclays.

  • If I were bullied or harassed I would feel happy to raise it without fear of penalty.

  • I believe that Barclays Group Executive genuinely wants to lead the way in equality and diversity.

  • I feel the internal recruitment and assessment process is fair.

  • I would recommend Barclays as a good place to work.

The views of LGB IBM staff are captured by a Global Work Life Survey, which is conducted every five years. This enables the firm to assess the impact of their initiatives designed to promote the value and inclusion of all colleagues and clients.

JPMorgan conducts a confidential Global Employee Opinion Survey every year. It includes a voluntary question on sexual orientation, recognising that in some countries voluntarily self identifying as LGB is less accepted than in others. The survey enables the firm to find out about and respond to the experiences of their LGB employees by asking questions relating to:

  • Overall satisfaction with the organisation

  • Experiences with clients

  • Employees’ intentions to stay in the organisation

  • Satisfaction with the firm’s diversity and inclusion agenda

  • Views on promotion opportunities, supervision and communications

An employer may not have received any complaints about harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation, but this may mean that LGB people do not feel comfortable about making complaints. Anonymous staff satisfaction surveys provide an opportunity to investigate whether this is the case.

Staff satisfaction surveys can also raise awareness about organisational commitment to sexual orientation, and increase employees’ confidence in support structures.

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Equality and diversity surveys

As well as conducting staff satisfaction surveys, a number of organisations carry out equality and diversity surveys, specifically to assess the effectiveness of organisations’ diversity strategies. As well as measuring positive impacts, these tailored surveys can clarify any remaining areas of disadvantage or discrimination that need to be addressed.

Nacro’s annual Equality and Diversity Audit has included a question on sexual orientation since its inception in 2001. This enables the organisation to see if any specific issues faced by particular groups need to be addressed through the equality and diversity strategy. The data on LGB staff can be cross-referenced with data on bullying and harassment, as well as views on what Nacro can do to create a fairer working environment. For instance, the survey asks about the usefulness of Nacro’s quarterly equalities newsletter. The survey also asks LGB staff to say whether they are out at work – and if not, why not. After five years of monitoring, the organisation has established that eight per cent of staff are LGB, of which 57 per cent are out. This is an increase from six per cent of staff identifying as LGB in 2002. Staff were not asked at this stage whether or not they were out at work.

Nottinghamshire County Council carries out an annual Equality and Diversity Survey. It asks staff to identify their sexual orientation, and to indicate how out they are in different situations at work, including during the recruitment process. The survey also asks a range of other questions relating to LGB issues and sexual orientation discrimination, including:

In the last 12 months have you heard jokes or comments in the workplace that you consider to be homophobic?  [] Yes [] No

Who were the comments made by?

[] Colleagues [] Managers [] Customers [] Consultants
[] Contractors [] Councillors []Others (please specify) ...............

Do you feel that you have been discriminated against in relation to your career development or progression on the basis of any of the following? Sexual orientation:
 Yes [] No

Are you aware of and do you attend any of the County Council’s self-managed staff groups? 
Corporate LGB group: [] Yes [] No [] Group member [] Attend sometimes

Does your manager willingly make provision for you to attend the groups listed above? [] Yes [] No [] Not asked to attend

Have you felt dissuaded from attending? [] Yes [] No

What, if anything, would you change about the council as a workplace in respect of equality (equal treatment) and diversity (disability, race, sexual orientation, age, gender, religion, belief)? Please describe.


An equalities review at the Greater London Authority (GLA) in 2002 found sexual orientation to be an under-developed workplace diversity strand, and identified LGB people as a target group for equalities work. In light of the impending Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, the organisation wanted to increase awareness of sexual orientation equality and to acknowledge the valuable contribution of LGB staff. It also wanted to demonstrate best practice, in both sexual orientation and gender identity. An LGBT Staff Survey was developed to inform work programmes and to encourage a culture of inclusion. The survey aimed to build up a profile of LGBT employees as a starting point for further planning and discussion. It specifically asked LGB staff:

Are you out at work? [] Yes to all staff []No [] Only to certain groups/staff members

If ‘yes’ or ‘only to certain groups/staff members’ then what have your general experiences been?

If ‘no’ then what are your reasons for this?

Please highlight any ideas you may have about how the GLA can further acknowledge and/or deal with LGBT issues

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